A curious carrot for Khartoum

What does the south Sudanese independence vote have to do with the US “state sponsors of terrorism” list?

Published on AlJazeera, by Gregg Carlstrom, 11 Nov. 2010.

Sudan, officially called a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the United States for 17 years, could finally shed that designation next summer – for doing something that has nothing to do with international terrorism.

The Obama administration announced earlier this week that Sudan could be removed from the “state sponsors of terrorism” list if January’s planned referendum on south Sudanese independence goes as planned.

A US state department official said on Sunday that Sudan would have to “hit these very important targets,” referring to a list of nearly 30 steps that will precede the referendum, including the registration of voters and the training of polling staff. (Many of them remain unmet.)

Senator John Kerry delivered that message to Sudanese officials late last week during a series of meetings in Khartoum. In a background briefing with reporters on Sunday, state department officials said the removal could happen as early as next summer. They described it as an “acceleration”: The administration had earlier offered to remove Sudan from the list in late 2011 or early 2012.

“We like to consider this a pay-for-performance operation,” one of the officials said.

The White House also dropped a previous demand: that Sudan end violence in the Darfur region before its removal from the list.

“We would also be decoupling the state sponsor of terrorism from Darfur and from the Darfur issue,” another official said.

The “state sponsors of terrorism” list, maintained by the US state department, currently includes three other countries: Cuba, Iran and Syria. Countries on the list are subject to severe economic sanctions.

‘Fully Cooperating’: … //

… Politics or national security?

So why is Sudan still on the list? A spokesman for the White House and a spokesman for the state department both declined to comment, referring reporters to Sunday’s state department briefing. The officials who delivered that briefing offered no justification for Sudan’s continued presence on the list.

It would not be the first time a country remained on the list for years after changing its behavior, though.

The state department, for example, reported in 2003 that North Korea – then a member of the list – “is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” But it remained on the list until 2008, when Pyongyang promised to allow international inspection of its nuclear facilities.

The reverse has also been true: Countries have been removed from the list despite not changing their policies. Iraq was removed from the list in 1982 – when the US considered it an ally, and supplied it with arms during the Iran-Iraq War – only to be reinstated in 1990, when it invaded Kuwait.

But Saddam Hussein almost certainly continued to “sponsor terrorism” during that interregnum: The Mujahedin-e Khalq, for example, a militant group responsible for dozens of bloody attacks in Iran, has been headquartered in Iraq since 1986.

The “state sponsor of terrorism” designation offers the Obama administration a convenient “carrot,” an easy way to lift onerous economic sanctions from Sudan. But the administration’s offer shows that the designation is being used for purposes far from the original intent. (full text).

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